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Wednesday
Mar202013

TSA Made Wounded Marine Remove Prosthetic Legs, Congressman Claims

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(PHOENIX) -- A Marine who lost both legs to a bomb was "humiliated" at a TSA security checkpoint in an Arizona airport when the agents insisted he stand up and was also told to remove his prosthetic legs, a California congressman claims in a letter to the TSA.

A TSA spokesman, however, told ABC News that the agency has reviewed the surveillance video of the incident and insisted the Marine was never asked to remove his prosthetics.

The alleged encounter occurred on March 13 when several Marines who were recovering from wounds were passing through Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport security en route to San Diego, Calif. One of the Marines was in a wheelchair because he had lost both legs in a bomb explosion and had "limited to no mobility," according to the letter from Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.

After entering the security checkpoint, "a TSA officer asked the Marine to stand and walk to an alternate area.... With numerous TSA officers sitting and unwilling to assist, an officer then made him remove his legs, then put them back on, only to advance to a secondary screening location where he was asked again to stand, with extraordinary difficulty, while his wheelchair was examined for explosives," Hunter's letter said.

"The Marine, whose prosthetics were exposed, was 'humiliated,' according to accounts," the congressman wrote.

Hunter's office said the letter is based on eyewitness accounts, but not from the Marine himself, who has not yet been identified. Joe Kasper, a spokesperson for Hunter, told ABC News that the Marine is still on active duty and isn't going to talk because his command won't allow it.

Hunter's letter said he had "visual reference" from the scene, but his office did not make them public.

TSA spokesman David Castelveter said the tapes of the incident have been reviewed and at no point did the Marine ever remove his prosthetic legs. He also said the eight minute long video showed nothing out of the ordinary and said the screeners who performed the screening are military veterans, including one who was a Marine.

"The screening was done cooperatively," he said.

The TSA said there was no official complaint filed. Kasper said the congressman's office advised the Marines to make the incident known through Hunter's office instead of with the TSA, claiming it would be more effective in changing the way wounded veterans are treated at security checkpoints.

"It's not the first time, nor will it be the last time vets and war wounded have a similar experience," Kasper told ABC News. "The bigger question is how do we use this and other situations to improve the process for screening people — wounded service members specifically — who don't notify TSA ahead of time. Congress cannot legislate common sense and decency, a lot of what's lacking in the screening process, but we can try to make the procedures a lot less burdensome for our vets and wounded service members."

On the TSA website there are several pages dedicated to the treatment of people with disabilities.

"A passenger can be screened without standing, walking, or being required to transfer out of a wheelchair or scooter; however, a passenger should inform a security officer of his or her ability before the screening begins," it reads.

As screening relates to prosthetics, according to the site, "Passengers with prostheses can be screened without removing them. The way screening will be conducted depends on the passenger's level of ability and whether or not he or she voluntarily chooses to remove his or her prosthetic during screening."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar052013

TSA to Allow Pocket Knives on Planes

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As the nation braces for potentially extended airport security lines because of the federal budget sequester, the Travel Security Administration (TSA) has announced they will allow small pocket knives and certain sporting goods on planes for the first time in more than a decade.

TSA Administrator John Pistole announced the change Tuesday at an aviation security conference in New York.

Starting April 25, passengers flying on U.S. flights will be allowed to carry small pocket knives — blades less than 6-centimeters, up to two golf clubs, ski poles, as well as sporting sticks used for hockey, lacrosse and billiards. Baseball bats will remain on the no-fly list, though wiffle-ball bats and souvenir baseball bats (less than 24-inches long) will be allowed.

“These are popular items we see regularly,” agency spokesman David Castelveter told Bloomberg News. “They don’t present a risk to transportation security.”

The move comes following a recommendation by a TSA working group that such items are not a security threat. The move will conform to international rules that currently allow the small knives and sporting goods.

“Frankly, I don’t want TSA agents to be delayed by these,” Pistole told the audience. Adding that TSA screeners at Los Angeles International Airport in the last three months of 2012, seized 47 of the small knives per day.

The Flight Attendants Union Coalition, which represents the 90,000 flight attendants on carriers nationwide, blasted the announcement calling it “poor and shortsighted.”

“Continued prohibition of these items is an integral layer in making our aviation system secure and must remain in place,” the statement said. “As the last line of defense in the cabin and key aviation partners, we believe that these proposed changes will further endanger the lives of all Flight Attendants and the passengers we work so hard to keep safe and secure.”

Razor blades and box-cutters, like those used by the 9/11 terrorists, will still be banned.

“There is just too much emotion involved with those,” Pistole said at the conference.

The Transportation Security Administration announced last week they would be reducing ”frontline workforce,” those who screen passengers prior to accessing a flight gate, and thereby lead to increased passenger wait times at airport security checkpoints.

The cuts come from a freeze of airport security screeners hiring and cutbacks on overtime, due to sequestration.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Feb212013

TSA Apologizes for Traumatizing Disabled Toddler

Creatas/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has apologized to a Missouri couple after its agents traumatized the family’s 3-year-old, wheelchair-bound daughter during a screening and told the mother she could not film the process.

The Feb. 8 run-in Annie Schulte and her disabled daughter had with TSA screeners at Missouri’s Lambert-St. Louis International Airport as they were heading to Orlando was caught on tape and posted to YouTube.  In the video, 3-year-old Lucy can be seen crying as TSA agents tell Schulte she cannot film the screening.

“To me it was pretty offensive because I was really tuned in when she said that, immediately I’m like, ‘OK, hold on, something doesn’t seem right.’  So I did tell her I was going to wait because I was going to grab my phone,” Schulte told ABC News.

Schulte says it all started when TSA agents asked to pat down Lucy and screen her wheelchair.  Schulte asked to tape it, she said, but an agent didn’t like that.

In the clip, an agent tells Schulte “it’s illegal to do that.”  She then tells the agent that they cannot touch her daughter unless she can record it.

“The problem is I don’t allow anyone to touch my little daughter without being able to record it,” she said.

Her husband, Nathan Forck, said Lucy was treated unfairly.

“It bothers me that my daughter was singled out, specifically because she is in a wheelchair,” Forck said.

The family says the final straw came when agents refused to return Lucy’s stuffed animal Lamby, even though it had already been scanned.

The TSA issued the apology overnight.

“TSA regrets inaccurate guidance was provided to this family during screening and offers its apology,” the agency said. “We are committed to maintaining the security of the traveling public and strive to treat all passengers with dignity and respect.  While no pat-down was performed, we will address specific concerns with our workforce.”

The family says it accepts the TSA’s apology, but wants screeners to receive more training to prevent such an incident from reoccurring.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Friday
Dec142012

Wheelchair-Bound Preteen Held by TSA After Traces of Explosives Found

WFAA/ABC News(TAMPA, Fla.) -- A Texas mom was dumbfounded and angry when her preteen, wheelchair-bound daughter was left sobbing at the security gate at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport when reps from the Transportation Security Administration detected traces of explosive on her hand.

Shelbi Walser, 12, has brittle bone disease, and was flying to Tampa, Fla., to receive treatment on Sunday when she was randomly selected for an explosives screening on her way through security.  Tammy Daniels, Walser’s mother, said that her daughter tested positive for explosives when a screener swabbed Walser’s palms and fingers.

Daniels was separated from her daughter for an hour while the situation was sorted out.  All she was able to do was film the incident and her embarrassed daughter crying.

“It’s O.K., you didn’t do anything wrong, we’re going to get you on your way,” an official can be heard saying to the girl on the video.

Speaking with ABC News affiliate WFAA-TV, Walser said that she has no idea how the traces of explosive got on her.

“It could have come off fertilizer, because we have chickens.  I could have run through something from them,” she said.  “It could have just come off the ground, because I roll through everything.”

But the TSA is defending their actions after the incident.

“We are sensitive to the concerns of passengers who were not satisfied with their screening experience and we invite those individuals to provide feedback to TSA through a variety of channels,” the TSA said in a statement.  “We work to balance those concerns with the very real threat that our adversaries will attempt to use explosives to carry out attacks on planes.”

Despite the delay, the mother and daughter made their flight to Tampa. Daniels, however, feels that the screening was too much.

“I am by no means undermining our safety in the air.  After 9/11, by no means am I doing that,” Daniels told WFAA.  “But when it comes to children, common sense is not in a textbook.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Dec062012

Another TSA Agent Accused of iPad Theft

Port Authority Police Department(NEW YORK) -- A TSA agent was arrested this week and charged with stealing from passengers traveling through New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, adding to the long list of TSA officers accused of theft of passenger belongings.

TSA baggage screener Sean Henry, 32, was arrested after a sting operation conducted jointly by the TSA and the Port Authority Police Department caught Henry leaving the airport with two iPads that had been planted as part of the sting, as well as numerous other electronic devices he had allegedly stolen from passengers. Just as in a recent ABC News investigation of thefts by TSA agents, the sting used the iPads' own tracking capabilities to follow the stolen tablets' movements.

Transportation Security Administration spokesman David Castelveter told ABC News that the TSA has "taken the steps to begin processing [Henry] for termination."

"TSA holds its employees to the highest ethical standards and has zero tolerance for misconduct in the workplace," said Castelveter in a statement.

In September, an ABC News investigation revealed that 381 TSA officers had been fired for theft between 2003 and 2012, including 11 up to that point this year.

As part of the investigation, ABC News purposefully left behind an iPad at an airport security checkpoint in Orlando, Fla., and, using the iPad's GPS tracking app, recovered it at the home of a TSA agent who was later fired for the alleged theft.

The ABC News investigation prompted Senator Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to urge the TSA to conduct random sting operations on its employees "to test whether TSA agents are acting in a trustworthy manner to protect passenger property."

Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman told ABC News that authorities have recently stepped up their sting investigations, in part in response to these reports, and in part because they've received more claims from passengers about lost and possibly stolen items.

"These sting operations have been growing out there to try to curb this level of luggage theft, especially as the Christmas holidays are approaching," Coleman said.

In the sting that resulted in Henry's arrest, officers used GPS technology in the planted iPads to follow the tablets as they left JFK on the airport's AirTrain system. Officers allegedly found Henry on the train with the devices, according to Coleman.

After arresting Henry, Coleman said, investigators found more devices in his backpack that they have identified as stolen property, including a MacBook Pro and a pair of new Beats by Dr. Dre Headphones still in the box. They also found another set of Beats Headphones, an Apple iPad Mini, an Apple iPod and an iPhone, which were taken for further investigation.

A subsequent search of his house also turned up a black Apple Macbook that was identified as stolen property, Coleman said.

Henry was charged with grand larceny and possession of stolen property. He was released on his own recognizance on Wednesday night and is due back in court in January. He has not yet entered a plea. According to Coleman, police are attempting to locate owners of the items they found, and more charges will be added when owners are located.

Coleman called the use of GPS tracking in its sting operations a "relatively new" tactic. The TSA declined to talk specifically about covert operations but did say that the agency has been conducting tests and cooperating with the Port Authority Police after the latest arrest.

Figures provided to ABC News by the TSA in October in response to a Freedom of Information Act request showed that JFK Airport ranked second in the nation in the number of TSA agents fired for theft, with a total of 27 fired from 2002 through December 2011.

"There's been an ongoing problem with luggage theft out of the airport, especially terminal 4, which is the international building," Coleman said.

The TSA disputes that theft is a widespread problem, saying the number of officers fired "represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed" by TSA.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Oct232012

The Top 20 US Airports for TSA Theft

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Your suitcase has been tagged and whisked away for a security check before being loaded onto a plane en route to your final destination.  How safe are the belongings inside?

The Transportation Security Administration has fired nearly 400 employees for allegedly stealing from travelers, and for the first time, the agency is revealing the airports where those fired employees worked.

Newly released figures provided to ABC News by the TSA in response to a Freedom of Information Act request show that -- unsurprisingly -- many of the country's busiest airports also rank at the top for TSA employees fired for theft.

Sixteen of the top 20 airports for theft firings are also in the top 20 airports in terms of passengers passing through.

At the head of the list is Miami International Airport, which ranks 12th in passengers but first in TSA theft firings, with 29 employees terminated for theft from 2002 through December 2011.  John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York is second with 27 firings, and Los Angeles International Airport is third with 24 firings.  JFK ranks sixth in passenger traffic, while LAX is third.  Chicago, while second in traffic, ranked 20th in theft firings.

The four airports listed in the TSA's top 20 list of employee firings for theft that aren't also among the Federal Aviation Administration's top 20 for passenger activity are Salt Lake City International, Washington Dulles, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International, and San Diego International.

The top airports across the U.S. for TSA employees fired for theft are:

1. Miami International Airport (29)
2. JFK International Airport (27)
3. Los Angeles International Airport (24)
4. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (17)
5. Las Vegas-McCarren International Airport (15)
6. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and New York-Laguardia Airport (14 each)
8. Newark Liberty, Philadelphia International, and Seattle-Tacoma International airports (12 each)
11. Orlando International Airport (11)
12. Houston-George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Salt Lake City International Airport (10 each)
14. Washington Dulles International Airport (9)
15. Detroit Metro Airport and Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (7)
17. Boston-Logan International, Denver International and San Diego International airports (6)
20. Chicago O'Hare International Airport (5)

During a recent ABC News investigation, an iPad left behind at a security checkpoint at the Orlando airport was tracked as it moved 30 miles away to the home of the TSA officer last seen handling it.

Confronted two weeks later by ABC News, the TSA officer, Andy Ramirez, at first denied having the missing iPad, but ultimately turned it over after blaming his wife for taking it from the airport.  Ramirez was later fired by the TSA.

The iPad was one of 10 purposely left behind at TSA checkpoints at major airports with a history of theft by government screeners, as part of an ABC News investigation into the TSA's ongoing problem with theft of passenger belongings.  The other nine iPads were returned to ABC News after being left behind.

The agency disputes that theft is a widespread problem, however, saying the number of officers fired "represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed" by the TSA.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Oct092012

Man Busted With Weapons, Body Armor at LAX

Creatas/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- A Boston-bound man wearing body armor, flame retardant leggings and knee pads under his trench coat was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport after a Customs and Border Protection officer found a smoke grenade and several weapons in his checked luggage. He is now facing a federal charge for transporting hazardous material on an airplane.

According to an affidavit filed in federal court, Yongda Huang Harris, 28, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Chinese descent, was flying from Kansai, Japan, via Inchon, Korea, to LAX on Friday.

He was pulled aside in customs for a secondary baggage inspection when an officer noticed Harris was wearing a bullet-proof vest. The officer asked Harris if he had anything he would like to declare in his checked luggage.

Harris told the officer he had a knife, but when his bag was searched, the officer found a troubling array of suspicious items.

In addition to the smoke grenade, officers found three leather-coated black-jack billy clubs, a collapsible baton, a full-face respirator, several knives and a hatchet.

Officers also found body bags, a tyvex biohazard suit, various masks, duct tape, hand cuffs, leg irons, flex cuffs, oven mitts and cooking tongs.

The smoke grenade, manufactured by a company called Commando, is classified as an explosive and is capable of filling a 40,000-cubic-foot space with smoke, according to the affidavit. The grenade is also capable of causing a fire.

It is not clear why Harris had those items in his luggage, but the investigation is ongoing.

Authorities say they are working with investigators in Japan, where Harris has been living, to learn more about why he would bring such an assortment of implements on board an international flight. LAPD and FBI are assisting in the investigation.

Harris, according to a Department of Homeland Security statement, makes his permanent home in Boston.

Though he was arrested Friday, due to the federal holiday Harris made his initial appearance Tuesday in a Los Angeles federal court and remains in federal custody.

He is scheduled to be back in court Friday for a detention hearing. A call to his attorney has not yet been returned.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Oct092012

Woman on 'End of Life' Trip Embarrassed by TSA?

ABC(SEATTLE) -- A woman dying of leukemia says Transportation Security Administration officers at the Seattle-Tacoma airport embarrassed her on her way to an “end of life” trip to Hawaii.

ABC affiliate KOMO reported that Michelle Dunaj carried a large amount of prescription drugs with her to the airport. A machine couldn’t get a reading on her saline bags and a TSA agent forced one open, contaminating the liquid inside.

A TSA agent also reportedly denied Dunaj’s request for a private screening. “They just said the location we were at was fine,” Dunaj told KOMO.

TSA agents required Dunaj to pull up her shirt and pull back the bandages that held her feeding tubes in place, the TV station reported. The feeding tubes were there because Dunaj’s organs were failing.

“It shouldn’t have happened that way. They should be more respectful of people,” Dunaj said.

Dunaj told KOMO she called Alaska Airlines ahead of time to request a wheelchair and to ask how her medicines should be separated for the security line. “I did everything they asked me to do, so I didn’t think there would be an issue,” she said.  

A TSA spokesman told ABC News the agency was aware of the complaint and was reviewing the circumstances.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Oct092012

Report: Unsupervised TSA Agents Fail to Screen Bags for Bombs

Scott Olson/Getty Images(HONOLULU) -- Unsupervised TSA agents at an international airport repeatedly failed to screen bags for explosives before putting them on flights with hundreds of passengers, according to a new report from the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General.

"Without ensuring that baggage is screened as appropriate, TSA risks the safety of the traveling public by allowing unscreened baggage on passenger aircraft," the report says.

The Inspector General's report, which focused on Hawaii's Honolulu International Airport, in part blamed the security failures on lack of supervision from TSA managers at security screening locations, something that DHS Acting Inspector General Charles Edwards said also could have contributed to hundreds of luggage thefts blamed on TSA screeners across the country, as detailed in a recent ABC News investigation.

"Theft and other misconduct by TSA employees has long been a key concern for the Office of Inspector General and our investigators have worked hard to bring individual wrongdoers to justice," Edwards said in a statement to ABC News. "Our audit revealed a lack of effective and consistent supervision of TSA screeners by their managers, as well as inconsistent adherence to operating procedures. These are conditions that can contribute to criminal activity, including the theft of airline passengers' valuables."

The IG's report, released Tuesday, says that for some months in late 2010, some TSA workers at Honolulu International Airport cleared luggage for transport without first properly screening it for dangerous materials in the airport's well-traveled overseas terminal.

"Among other things," the report says, "evidence shows [TSA screeners] opening bags, placing notices of inspection inside, and transporting them back to the airline without screening them."

The report comes two weeks after an ABC News investigation revealed that 381 TSA agents have been fired since the agency's founding a decade ago for allegedly stealing from passengers. As part of the investigation, ABC News tracked an iPad that was purposefully left behind at an airport security checkpoint to the home of a TSA agent, who was later fired for the alleged theft.

Another former TSA employee, Pythias Brown, served three years in prison for theft and said he stole approximately $800,000 worth of cash and merchandise from travelers before he was caught.

"It was very commonplace, very," Brown told ABC News. "It was very convenient to steal… [TSA agents] didn't think it was okay, but they did it and said, 'I don't care. They ain't paying me. They're treating me wrong.' But when people started seeing they could profit off of it, then it became massive."

The agency disputes that theft is a widespread problem, however, saying the number of officers fired "represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed" by TSA.

The IG's report said its review was done after the TSA was tipped off to the failed security procedures by a "confidential source." The TSA launched their own investigation into the incident and "took personnel actions" against employees who allegedly acted improperly.

After its review, the IG gave the TSA four recommendations, all of which the Inspector General said the TSA agreed to implement to enhance security checks and screener supervision. But the TSA took issue with the IG's conclusion that the failures would not have occurred if some of the recommendations had already been in place, saying that it wasn't any procedures that made the screeners decide to circumvent protocols.

The report also said the TSA claimed Honolulu was the only travel hub where procedures were not followed, but the IG said the agency "did not provide evidence to support this assertion, nor did it demonstrate it reviewed all airports."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Oct082012

Newark Airport TSA Get Low Marks on Internal Report

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEWARK, N.J.) -- If you've ever showed up at an airport security checkpoint with more than the allowed amount of liquid -- three ounces in any one container -- still in your carry on bag or make-up case, you're not alone.

And if you've managed to get through that checkpoint without having those liquids confiscated, you're not the exception.

An internal Transportation Security Administration report accessed by New Jersey's Star-Ledger newspaper found that at Newark Liberty International airport, agents take appropriate action on prohibited items in only a quarter of all cases.

And it's worse news when it comes to pat-downs: The report found agents properly executing standard pat-downs of passengers only 16.7 percent of the time. When it came to informing passengers of their right to opt out of a full-body scan in favor of a pat-down, the agents did not inform passengers even once.

The newspaper said the report was dated June 8 and was titled PACE Airport Evaluation. It was compiled by "an undercover team of Transportation Security Administration employees from other airports who were asked to observe screeners at work at Newark Liberty."

PACE is an acronym for Presence, Advisements, Communication and Execution. Observers who participate are TSA agents from other airports.

But it's not all bad news for EWR's TSA agents. The agents were observed removing prohibited items during physical searches and exhibiting good listening skills 100 percent of the time.

The TSA did not immediately respond to an ABC News request for comment.

The report comes to light on the heels of an ABC News investigation on TSA theft. ABC News reported in September that a convicted TSA security officer says he was part of a "culture" of indifference that allowed corrupt employees to prey on passengers' luggage and personal belongings with impunity, thanks to lax oversight and tip-offs from TSA colleagues.

"It was very commonplace, very," said Pythias Brown, a former TSA officer at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey who admits he stole more than $800,000 worth of items from luggage and security checkpoints over a four-year period.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio